Visit to Soma and Odaka plus workshop – September 2019

We chose late September for the Japan workshop of our project ‘Building Resilience to Environmental Change in Marginalised Coastal Communities’, supported by the ESRC-AHRC UK-Japan Social Sciences and Humanities Connections fund. Along with myself as Principal Investigator, my RGU colleagues Dr Leon Moller of the Law School and Yi-Chen Huang of the School of Applied Social Studies travelled to Japan for a week of presentations, discussion and site visits.

We were hosted by our Co-Principal Investigator Prof Midori Kawabe at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, and joined also by our Co-Investigators Dr Jun Kita and Dr Hiromitsu Onchi of the Marine Ecology Research Institute. For the first two classroom-based days, TUMSAT masters students taking Prof Kawabe’s Education for Sustainable Development course also sat in for the presentations and discussion.

Team photo at TUMSAT

Day one was given over to getting to know what everyone does, as a foundation for identifying linkages between our different disciplinary backgrounds. Yi-Chen kicked us off with an overview of the environmental impact assessment controversy surrounding the Miramar Resort in eastern Taiwan, before Leon gave a very comprehensive overview of the laws of the sea. After an informative presentation from Onchi-san on the work of MERI (his first ever presentation in English!), Kita-san gave a very informative and useful talk on what natural scientists need from social scientists for effective environmental assessment. In the last session of the day, I used the Twitter controversy around the 2018/19 Hokkaido earthquakes and the Tomakomai CCS project as a case study of how natural and social sciences collide in unexpected ways.

Dr Jun Kita of MERI presenting on what natural scientists need from social scientists


The second day acted as an introduction to the existing RGU-TUMSAT work on the coast of Fukushima Prefecture – one of our study sites for the project. This started with a straightforward description of the geography in Fukushima and an overview of what happened in 2011, followed by a technical presentation from Prof Kawabe on the process of fisheries restarts. I then took over again and the session descended into a bewildering overview of the culture of coastal Fukushima, covering everything from Rakuo Café au Lait and deep-fried mehikari, through to Tamayakko Kitagawa and Naraha Channel community TV. Rather more earnestly, the purpose of this session was to give those unfamiliar with the context an opportunity to think about what they might like to ask later in the week…

…which leads nicely to 9.08am Wednesday morning, when six of us loaded onto Hayabusa 8 and shot off in the direction of the Fukushima coast. Two trains (and one near-miss with a self-heating bento box in which I almost scalded myself with steam) later, we were at the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative Association headquarters. There, six officers from Fukushima Prefecture and a team from the cooperative were putting on an international workshop, and had gathered eleven fishers to tell us about life as a fisher in Fukushima in 2019. The prefectural fisheries officers did a great job facilitating the discussion and noting down the key points. An interesting dimension to the afternoon concerned translation. One table (mine) operated in Japanese, with translation from Soma Dialect for my benefit. A second table, where Leon was sitting, had Japanese-English translation thanks to Wakamori-san, a bilingual undergraduate TUMSAT student who grew up in the USA. The third table, where Yi-Chen was, used Japanese-Chinese translation thanks to the presence of Gu-san, another TUMSAT student who had joined us for the trip to Fukushima. After an afternoon of intense discussion, we had the chance to sample some local seafood (and sake) during dinner with the fisheries officers.

Workshop with fishers at Soma Fishing Port

It was then up early for breakfast and onto the Joban Line south to Odaka in Minamisoma. Odaka was evacuated following the nuclear accident, and the evacuation order remained in place until 2015. Since then, the community has seen significant revitalisation effort, which Karin Taira (proprietor of The Lantern House and a fellow University of Edinburgh graduate) met us off the train to show us. Over half a day we saw a market of fresh farm produce grown by a cooperative of female farmers, tried local sushi, sampled high-quality coffee from Odaka Micro Stand Bar, and heard from the owner of the Futabaya Ryokan, who returned after the disaster to re-establish her business. Yoshikawa-san of Appreciate Fukushima Workers also stopped by to share some insights on the debate on whether to release water containing tritium from the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Hearing from Karin Taira of The Lantern House in Odaka

Unsurprisingly, everyone fell asleep on the shinkansen home.

Some of us were still asleep on the last morning too, as we worked to identify areas of interest and possible research questions based on the previous days’ discussions. Nonetheless, we finished on time and with a good consensus on the next steps. Thanks most of all to Prof Kawabe for arranging everything at one of the busiest times of the year for their university!

Thank you as always to the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for supporting this work under grant number ES/S013296/1

Soma Fishing Port

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